Through the eyes of the patient: Looking beyond HCAHPS to improve patient experience

Despite the fact that consumerization is on the rise in healthcare and patients are becoming more selective when it comes to choosing a healthcare provider, a large chunk of hospital executives haven't reevaluated their organization's approach to the patient experience, according to Debbie Landers.

Ms. Landers, senior vice president of healthcare strategic communications and engagement firm Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock, is conducting interviews and administering an online survey among patient experience executives from across the country as part of a massive patient experience research project. [Editor's note: Find participation information at the bottom of this article.]

So far, she says results of the survey show roughly 50 percent of hospital CXOs and other patient experience professionals still think of patient experience solely in terms of HCHAPS scores. "If you're using that as your only metric, you only have an inpatient focus for what patient experience is," she says — which can be damaging to hospitals.

"Patient experience is not just an acute care need," Ms. Landers says. "To really own the brand in your marketplace for patient experience and reputation, you really have to start that long before someone ends up being a patient in your hospital."

That means opening up the definition of patient experience to include interacting with and engaging community members before they even step foot inside a facility. Such interactions enable hospital leaders and clinicians to "look at healthcare through the eyes of a patient," she says. When that happens, providers can see how a patient's experience with the healthcare system is so much broader than whether or not a room was quiet at night or if the food arrived hot.

Instead, consumers today are looking for convenience, affordability, high-quality care and excellent customer service from their healthcare providers, Ms. Landers says.

Measuring up

Part of the reason executives are still thinking in this "old school" way about patient experience is because they are already required to report HCAHPS scores, results are available to the public and they are tied to Medicare reimbursement in CMS' value-based purchasing program.

"It's measurable," Ms. Landers says of the inpatient experience. "[HCAHPS is] one of the few metrics they have industrywide they can use to compare" themselves to other hospitals.

On the other hand, it's much more difficult to measure and analyze patients' experiences with other areas of the system, but it is possible. Ms. Landers says there are a few ways to measure patient experience beyond the acute care space.

For instance, many hospitals are using CGCAHPS surveys, taken by patients visiting physician offices, to measure outpatient experience as well. Several consulting companies also offer supplemental patient surveys to measure experience beyond questions asked by CAHPS to get a more fleshed-out view of what patients experience in the system.

Further, many health systems are inviting patients back to participate in patient/family advisory councils where they can share their experiences first hand.

Beyond that, hospitals are increasingly realizing that "happy employees and physicians equal happy patients," Ms. Landers says, which makes employee and physician engagement data important in evaluating patient experience.

What sets hospitals apart

For leaders looking to move forward with a more progressive, big-picture approach to patient experience, Ms. Landers suggests focusing on two things first:

  • Online presence. "Online presence has a lot to do with capturing consumers' attention before they're patients," she explains. Hospitals can consider making their websites more robust, engaging in the community and writing more about wellness and preventative medicine online for starters.
  • Access. Ms. Landers used the example of Cleveland Clinic's same-day appointment initiative as an example of consumer-focused access improvement. "The more opportunity you have to get the patient in to you when the patient needs to get to you, the more positive they're going to be about your system," she says.

The bottom line: Healthcare patient experience leaders need to start embracing the consumer view of patient experience — meaning they must bust out of an HCAHPS-only view — if they want to survive in the industry, Ms. Landers says.

"Leaders who want to be around five years from now need to be embracing patient experience from the full spectrum."

Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock has launched a national survey to examine the structure, costs and strategies for patient experience programs at hospitals and health systems of all sizes. We hope to establish industry benchmarks that will go beyond HCAHPS and serve as a vital resource for healthcare leaders.   

We would like to invite you to pass this survey along to the most senior member of your team responsible for patient experience. The results of this 10-15 minute survey will be blinded for confidentiality. Access the survey here.

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